Walking out of the theater from Robert Schwentke’s “Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins,” I couldn’t help feeling a sense of coyness. For everything action-oriented about the story, there was a reserved feeling.
The film is full of incredible spectacle and strongly defined characters whose arcs are carried to their logical conclusion, especially for an origin story.
The story, screenplay by Evan Spiliotopoulos, Joe Shrapnel, and Anna Waterhouse; story by Spiliotopoulos, brings us the origins of the favored “G.I. Joe” character of Snake Eyes, played with aplomb by Henry Golding from Hasbro’s animated series. Unlike his role in “The Gentlemen,” Golding isn’t cocksure. He is seeking something. From the opening frames of the film, we can only guess what, but not why.
We can guess the why, feeding into the coy feeling, a mystery about the shadowy organization behind the goings-on in the film. Snake Eyes catches the attention of Kenta (Takehiro Hira), a cast-out member of the Clan Arashikage, seeking his brand of revenge for his dishonor.
In an early display of the close-quarter fighting, Schewntke and cinematographer Bojan Bazelli employ a tighter framing of the characters, giving the characters moments of intimacy as we seep into their bubbles, feeling their fists and swords slicing through the air. Admittedly, some of those shots are perhaps a bit too tight.
When we meet Storm Shadow, better known as Tommy Arashikage (Andrew Koji), the framing opens up just a bit. Bazelli captures the electricity of the glowing neon-laden streets of Tokyo, where a good portion of the film was shot, juxtaposed with the quiet tree-filled hills surrounding the Arashikage Castle. An opulence follows Arashikage as Storm Shadow takes Snake Eyes in, offering the chance to train to be one of his operatives.
I had a nagging feeling that Schwentke’s name sounded familiar to me as certain moments happen in the film, namely a James Bond/Bourne-esque nature unfolds as Snake Eyes begins his training. He directed 2010’s “Red.” This story isn’t filled with familiar actors, and as previously said, the camera work is perhaps framed a bit too intimately.
That framing opens up as Snake Eyes works to pass three tests of honor, courage, and devotion to the Clan Arashikage. Leading his training is the Hard Master played by Iko Uwais (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” “Raid Redemption”) and the Blind Master played by Peter Mensah. Both characters had a hardened serenity between them; something Snake Eyes must prove before being accepted into the Clan.
Snake Eyes isn’t fully invested in the training, and something far more sinister is afoot as a threat descends upon the Clan. Golding holds his own and anchors the film effectively, unlike Michael B. Jordan and, to a lesser extent, Lewis Tan. Despite being without a home or the serenity of peace, Snake Eyes is at the center of attention. Both within the Clan and within the shadowy organization known as Cobra.
The alluring Scarlett supports Golding in a rather humorous introduction and the mysterious Úrsula Corberó as the Baroness, a somewhat slinky character whose actions match her outfits. Akiko, played by Haruka Abe, lends a little gravitas to the film, offering some well-placed humor, which Golding feeds off.
When we get down to business, though, the film fires of nearly all of its cylinders. The action is solid, the motion swift, and the eyes never leave the screen. Unfortunately, the editing and the pacing felt just a bit off, as if the katana blades wielded by the soldiers were used to cut the film instead of a computer program. The film runs just a hair over two hours, and you’ll want to stay for a mid-credit sequence.
“Snake Eyes” honorably sets us up for the eventual sequel, its primary purpose. The beauty of Schwentke’s story is that it stands alone on its own because the characters and the story play their motives like a grand game of chess.
- Movie Review: Snake Eyes